Brexit protocol plan for sea border gets cool reception in Dublin

Government sources privately fear the North set to become Brexit battleground again

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: he  welcomed the British paper, but said a lot of technical discussions would be needed to flesh out the details of the plan.  Photograph: Getty Images

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: he welcomed the British paper, but said a lot of technical discussions would be needed to flesh out the details of the plan. Photograph: Getty Images

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The Government has played down British insistence that there will be no new customs infrastructure either side of the Irish Sea once the UK is no longer bound by EU rules next year. However, senior Government sources privately fear that Northern Ireland is set to become a key Brexit battleground again.

On Wednesday the British government published its plans for how the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Treaty agreed last year would work.

Under the treaty the North remains part of the UK’s customs territory but EU customs rules apply to all goods entering the North unless they are determined not to be at risk of moving on into the EU single market in the Republic.

The British paper envisages a system that would presume that goods moving from Great Britain to the North are destined to remain there.

However, it acknowledges the need for “some new administrative process” for customs, as well as the need for expanded infrastructure to check animals and agrifood entering the North from Great Britain.

“Although there will be some new administrative requirements in the protocol, these electronic processes will be streamlined and simplified to the maximum extent,” cabinet office minister Michael Gove told the House of Commons.

Unionist audience

Dublin received the document coolly, with senior sources suggesting that the insistence on no new customs posts was designed for a Conservative and unionist audience.

But they pointed to the treaty, which the British plan could not contradict. “Just because the British produce a piece of paper – it’s not of equivalent standing to the Withdrawal Agreement,” said one source.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney welcomed the British paper, but said a lot of technical discussions would be needed to flesh out the details of the plan.

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